An outside legal counsel retained by the Effingham County commissioners said the county needs to pay a contractor for a generator it put in for a water and sewer system.
While John Hart, the county attorney for Chatham County, agreed with developers D.M. Jones Construction , Inc., that they should be reimbursed $30,000 for the cost of the generator, Vera Jones took exception to Hart’s assertion that the county did not breach its contract.
Jones, vice president of D.M. Jones Construction and a county commissioners, recused herself from the discussion.
Hart said it was unfortunate that the South Effingham Plantation and Buckingham Plantation projects had to be modified because of a lack of GEFA funding.
"Nevertheless, the developer is fortunate that the water and sewer
agreement with the county contemplated an allowance for self-performance by the contractor," he said, adding the pact also called for the developer to receive credits from impact fees to cover costs.
According to Hart, D.M. Jones Construction believes the generator was not within the general scope of the work for system improvements, including the pump station’s force main. Hart said it appears the generator was part of the plan for the South Effingham Plantation pump station and force main.
The original plans called for South Effingham and Buckingham to each have an internal water and sewer system, with a gravity-fed line running back to a county trunk line. But the project changed, with a force main replacing the gravity sewer and the lines nearly doubling in length.
"The county gave building permits, and people needed sewer systems," said Jones. "Dennis said there was no way they can build this sewer fast enough. I said, the county will never allow homes to be built without sewer."
Jones said they decided to finish the work in order to keep their reputation in good standing and to give the homeowners moving in sewer systems that worked.
"We did everything humanly possible so that people could have flushable toilets and to keep our name out of the mud," she said. "There is so much improper activity, and none of it is from our side. It is so distressing to be up here."
Jones said her fight isn’t about the reimbursement but about making the county hold to its contracts.
Hart said he disputed Jones’ claim the county breached its contract.
He said the county didn’t have enough money to cover all the costs and the agreement to have the developer finish the work "was probably the best thing to happen to the developer." Had the project gone to bid, it would have another two months to get bids and another two months to start work.
"Thank goodness for that provision," he said.
Hart said that although there delays in the delivery of water and sewer service to the subdivisions, "there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Board of Commissioners and/or county staff." The delay in services, he said, was due in large part to changes in county administrative staff, the GEFA loan decision process, letters of credit to be delivered by developers, changes in the scope of the project because of its cost, lawsuits brought against the county and adverse judicial rulings affecting impact fees collection.
Jones also pointed out there appears to be no record of the county commissioners agreeing to change the project, and that an engineering firm had outsourced electrical diagrams before it had been officially given the go-ahead for design work. But Hart said since there was no expenditure from county coffers for the work, "there was nothing to vote on."
Jones’ company also was reimbursed more than $730,000 to finish the work, and Hart said the company is under no obligation to repay any of it. Apparently, because of a staff miscommunication, the bill had been paid in full, he said.
"In essence, the developer was reimbursed for the total cost of the system improvements as opposed to being paid based on the extent of actual fees collected."
To pay back the money owed for the generator, the county has several options, according to Hart. The county could repay the money at once, in installments or could withhold payment until enough impact fees from the two subdivisions are collected in order to make reimbursement from those fees.
Jones, however, is vowing to continue her fight to show the county violated its own contracts.
"It’s not over," she said.